The great hall of the majestic National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., makes for one of the most elegant beer festivals in the world. The museum explores the greatest stories of architecture, engineering and design, and its Renaissance Revival style provided the perfect backdrop for the 10th annual Savor: an American Craft Beer and Food Experience.
Imagine a grand marketplace format where well-dressed guests sample 172 craft beers alongside a carefully curated menu designed for perfect pairings. Picture yourself leaning on a spectacular interior Corinthian column (among the largest in the world) while noshing on a green coconut curry on papaya salad with Thai basil, paired with Maui Brewing Co.’s Black Pearl imperial coconut porter (aged in rum barrels). That’s just for starters: Laid out before you are tables of raw oysters, cheeses, chocolates and charcuterie, peppered with endless beer combos to sample.
“It’s not just about beer anymore,” explained Garret Marrero, founder of Maui Brewing. “It’s about the cultural tie between beer and food. Beer is not just something you wash your pretzels down with.”
The Brewers Association hosted its 10th Savor event this past weekend, a celebration of food and craft beer, and yet pretzels were nowhere to be found. As in previous iterations, each brewery poured two different beers, each paired with a different food item; breweries are selected via lottery based on region or can bypass that nonsense and pay as a supporter of the event. Ten additional breweries were added since last year’s Savor, totaling 86 breweries with 172 beers to sample over the course of two nights.
Washington, D.C., is unique in that you don’t necessarily need a distributor to get your beer to events, bars and stores throughout the city. As a result, there were many beers that have never been served in D.C., giving attendees a chance to try samples from indie breweries for the first time. But this also creates interesting logistics. Maui Brewing air-shipped its beers in a refrigerated climate, while Reuben’s Brews and Propolis Brewing, both from Washington state, split the cost of a refrigerated truck to ship their beer across the country.
No matter the size of the brewery, Savor is seen as an important event to showcase your brands. As Adam Robbings, co-founder brewmaster of Reuben’s Brews put it: “We’re small, but we want to be part of the broader national craft movement. Just because we’re small doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be part of that to help move beer forward. This is one of those events that’s a national event run really well that’s moving beer far more to beer and food pairings, which is helping move the needle. It’s nice to be part of that whole movement.”
The Lost Abbey Brewing Co. attended for its second Savor in a row. While it distributes to New Jersey and Philadelphia, the brewery has no immediate plans to distribute to D.C. Despite this, they enjoy coming to Savor.
“It’s not your typical beer festival where you are outside in the heat pouring under a bunch of canopies,” said Norm Stackhouse, brand manager from Lost Abbey/Port Brewing, which opted to bring two of its more sought-after beers to the event — Veritas 019 and My Black Parade.
“It’s becoming harder and harder to identify yourself nationally, so that is what we are trying to do here,” said Dave Sippel, director of brewing operations at Arcadia Ales, Battle Creek, Mich.
IPAs and hop-forward craft beers were among the most poured and paired throughout the evening. The biggest newcomer to the overall beer list was the influx of session styles from hopped up session ales to German-Style pilseners, Kölsch, gose and more.
As always, Savor provided an occasion to elevate the conversation around the relationship between beer and food — via a pairing menu designed by an expert tasting panel led by Chef Adam Dulye, executive chef at the Brewers Association, along with Kyle Mendenhall, BA chef consultant and chef of Arcana Restaurant in Boulder, Colo. This year’s event even offered a selection of producer-driven stations that featured outstanding purveyors paired with breweries. Producers include Nathan Miller Chocolate, Nathan Anda and Red Apron Butcher, American Cheese Society, Choptank Oyster Co. and Monterey Fish Market.
New Belgium Brewing Co. and Hardywood Park Craft Brewery partnered to make this year’s gift to attendees, Savor X, a robust porter brewed with Virginia-sourced hops and Colorado-sourced cocoa husks. All in all it was a well-run event that justifiably receives a lot of attention from beer fans across the country. In the increasingly competitive world of beer, it’s a pretty good gamble for breweries looking to stand out in the crowd.
“We don’t know what this event will mean to us but have always been curious. We’re excited to find out,” said Mark Schultz, co-owner of Prison City Pub and Brewery, a five-barrel brew pub from Auburn, N.Y.
We were just as excited to find out.
David and Richard Hartogs are two beer brainiacs based in the greater Washington, D.C., area. The two are on a mission to start Rocket Frog Brewing Co., which is still in the “launch” phase. The two were also an enormous influence on CBB Founding Partner Keith Gribbins, whose visits with the twin brothers in Rehoboth, Delaware (home to the original Dogfish Brewpub), was an inspiration for building this website.